The Premium Times, Lagos, reported on the 11th October 2017 that Nigerian President Buhari approved N640 billion NNPC oil trading and swaps contracts from his sick bed in London. Recall that before proceeding on vacation, the President had effectively transferred responsibility of running the government to the Vice President. But according to the report, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Maikanti Baru had said the President approved at least two separate oil contracts on July 10 and July 31 2017 worth $1 billion and $780 million, respectively. To the best of my knowledge though, the President has not confirmed or refuted this. But if the Premium Times’ report is to be relied upon, then what is the legality of those contracts approved by the President from his sick bed?
By section 145 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), whenever the President transmits a written declaration to the National Assembly that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, the functions of his office shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President. Put it in another way, though in such a situation he remains the President of Nigeria, the exercise of his powers will be exercisable only by the Acting President. The President himself cannot validly sign any document in law. All executive powers are transferred to the Acting President. The honourable Justice Abutu of the Federal High Court in Onwuke v Attorney General of the Federation Suit No. FHC /ABJ/ CS/10 /2010, held that: “when the Vice President is exercising the powers of the President as an Acting-President, he is exercising that (sic) powers in his own right as acting president and not on behalf of the president.”
The argument in some quarters that President Buhari signed the NNPC contracts in his capacity as the Minister of Petroleum Resources is with respect unfounded. The President never declared himself Minister of Petroleum, so he signed as President not as a Minister. Assuming, he signed the NNPC contracts in his capacity as the supervising Minister of Petroleum Resources, for all intents and purposes he had transferred all his presidential powers (including the power to oversee the Petroleum Ministry) to the Acting President. He cannot transmit some and retain some.
It follows therefore from the foregoing that signing of those documents by president Buhari were beyond his powers and unconstitutional. The signings are therefore voidable.
Oliver G. Chukkol, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State.